SDPD Neighborhood Policing Resource Team
Shoplifting costs retailers billions of dollars each year. Shoplifters may be of any age, gender, ethnicity, or economic background. They often work in pairs or groups to divert the clerk’s attention while they steal. They like to strike when employees tend to be less alert, such as at store opening and closing times, lunch and dinner breaks, and shift changes. Shoplifters may also take advantage of crowded stores during peak hours.
Merchants can combat shoplifting by making use of the following tips:
- Make the shoplifters feel watched. Elevate the cashier’s platform. Install mirrors that enable cashiers and sales people to see over and around displays. Install one-way glass in offices so employees can see into the store without being seen from the floor.
- Install surveillance cameras to cover cash registers, high-value merchandise displays, entrances, loading docks, etc. Program software to create an alarm when suspicious activity occurs. Mount monitors showing live video at main entrances to let shoppers know that they will be under surveillance.
- Post signs warning against shoplifting. Emphasize that you will prosecute. The best way to keep your business from being tagged as an easy mark is to take a get-tough attitude and prosecute on the first offense.
- Encourage checking parcels on entry.
- Require receipts for merchandise returns for cash. Require a photo ID and signature for returns without a receipt. And then give merchandise-only vouchers.
- Take an inventory of returned merchandise against receipts on a regular basis to catch false returns, such as ones without returned merchandise.
- Keep display and clothing racks away from entrances and exits to discourage “hit-and-run” thieves.
- Alternate hangers front‑to‑back to prevent thieves from quickly grabbing bundles of display clothing.
- Keep small and expensive items out of reach or in locked display cases. Have sales people show only one item at a time from a case.
- Protect merchandise in display cases by keeping the case doors locked and installing laminated glass or clear acrylic plastic in the windows. Use plastic ties to secure merchandise on the tops of boxes.
- Arrange merchandise neatly to make it easier to detect missing items.
- Take daily or weekly inventories of expensive items.
Train your sales staff to:
- Watch for people with loose or baggy clothing that’s inappropriate for the weather, and people with large bags or other props, such as newspapers, strollers, briefcases, or umbrellas that can easily conceal merchandise.
- Pick up stray receipts around the store.
- Be aware of shoplifters’ tactics to confuse and distract you. For example, when working in teams, one shoplifter will create a disturbance, such as complaining loudly or knocking over merchandise, to draw attention away from the other who is doing the lifting.
- Be attentive to people in your area. This helps legitimate customers and deters shoplifters. A simple “Can I help you?” warns shoplifters they are being watched. Keep a close watch on people who seem nervous or refuse assistance.
- Cover their entire area of responsibility, even blind spots.
- Have another sales person cover your area when you leave the floor, for example, to check for items in the stockroom.
- Be especially alert when the store is crowded. Shoplifters often operate when sales people are busy helping legitimate customers.
- Watch for shoppers walking with an unnatural gait, which may indicate that they are concealing lifted items.
Stopping a Shoplifter
- If you suspect that someone may be considering lifting something, approach the person and ask “Can I help you?” If someone leaves your store without paying for an item, have an employee follow the suspect and get a good description of the person and vehicle used, and call 911 to report the crime. Do not have your employee attempt to detain the suspect unless he or she has been trained in apprehension and arrest procedures.
- California Penal Code Section 490.5(f) deals with “merchant’s privilege” in detaining a person suspected of shoplifting. The law covers topics such as the need for probable cause, use of force, period of detention, limits on searches, and defenses in civil actions brought by a detained person.